We all need our beauty sleep for optimal functioning. However, we might be underestimating the true power of a good night’s sleep. Research has discovered that our brain “cleans itself” while we slumber. It flushes out useless noise, chatter, and information that isn’t useful for our day-to-day lives. Therefore, catching some must-needed z’s is essential for peak cognitive performance and mental health. Let’s learn more about our brain’s restoration and “cleaning” process and how sleep can even help our mental health.
Brain Waves Consolidate our Memory
Since the genesis of sleep studies, we’ve learned that brain waves move at different frequencies as we enter the different sleep cycles. As the slow waves enter a non-REM deep sleep, these are the moments where your memories get consolidated.
When the brain waves slow down, your mind goes through what you learned, events to remember, and other significant facts that you accumulated throughout the day. These nuggets of information are stowed away in our hippocampus. Once it deciphers which information is useful, the hippocampus begins the long-term storage process where pertinent data is stored in our cortex for future use.
These brain waves do more than just consolidating our memory. A recent analysis found out that these light electrical oscillations also act as a power washer for the mind. Let’s take a look at how this crucial part of the sleep cycle helps clean toxins from the brain.
How Brain Waves Clean the Brain
Researchers hypothesized that our brain refreshed itself by introducing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to the system. CSF is a spinal fluid produced by ventricles in the brain. However, scientists were unsure just how CSF played such a pivotal role in our mental wellness. Now, they have a better understanding.
Scientists now believe that the electrical oscillations that transpire overnight actually push CSF through the pathways that comprise our mind. As a result, toxins, free radicals, and stagnant brain cells can be flushed from the brain.
The way this works is sort of like a water wheel. Our thalamus has little spindle-like nerves. As the cortex calls for electricity, it causes the spindles to spin. As the wave oscillates, the axle creates sharp ripples in the hippocampus. This process encourages blood flow to the brain, followed by CSF production.
Even more impressive, the amount of CSF that enters the system is determined by how deep of a sleep we are enjoying. This realization made scientists delve a little further into this phenomenon.
How the CSF-Sleep Study Was Conducted
A study was conducted involving 13 healthy volunteers. Scientists implemented electroencephalography (EEG) to measure their brain waves. Subsequently, they also used breakthrough fMRI technology to watch the movement of oxygenated blood cells.
The scientists deduced that any electrical current would spark impulses and movements that require oxygen to continue. As they expected, oxygenated blood made it to the brain once non-REM sleep started. However, the fMRI technology also picked up on the fact that CSF was also along for the journey.
Witnessing this symbiotic relationship caused the scientists to believe there is a strong correlation between non-REM sleep, CSF fluid, and oxygenated blood.
Ultimately, the scientists figured that when brain activity slows down, so does the amount of blood that reaches the brain. Since the brain is closed off, excess blood can’t enter the structure. Instead, the brain fills the gaps with CSF.
As Neurologist Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester told Scientific American, “electrical activity drives blood flow changes, that then drives CSF changes.”
How CSF Cleans the Brain
There are four ventricles in the brain. CSF is present in all four of these communication cavities. However, during sleep, CSF actually flows out of the fourth ventricle. These waves crashing the shore that is our brain helps clear out membranes surrounding the spinal column and brain.
These membranes are known as meninges. They travel along the gut-brain-axis. As a result, CSF meets up with fluids in our intestines. Together, CSF and intestinal fluids bring the toxins to our intestines so they can be removed from our system.
How Sleep Can Help Mental Health Disorders
Many scientists believe that neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are caused by proteins that build up on the brain. In particular, one of the common culprits of dementia is the protein known as amyloid-Beta. Prior to a study on this protein, scientists had already determined that sleep helped to lower levels of this harmful molecule. Now, they have a better understanding.
Thanks to crucial non-REM sleep, our body has a built-in mechanism that helps protect the brain. These benefits are made possible by the 1-2 combo of CSF and intestinal fluid. This new breakthrough in research corroborates older research on brain waves and Alzheimer’s.
Previously, scientists witnessed that Alzheimer’s patients had lower levels of CSF in the system. Therefore, CSF must have been playing a crucial role in clearing these protein deposits out of the system.
What this Sleep Study Means for the Future of Mental Health
During this study, scientists noted that CSF production was altered as patients entered various sleep cycles. They indicated that electrical charges in the brain differ during these shifts in stages. Now, they’re trying to see how these unique patterns affect people with various diseases.
Many people who suffer from mental health disorders also have trouble sleeping. Due to sleep disturbance, people may become deficient in optimal CSF levels. Therefore, protein deposits and other toxins in the brain may remain there.
Neuroscientist Laura Lewis of Boston University headed up the team that performed this study. She explained that “different electrical signatures of sleep are disrupted in different psychiatric conditions.”
Some of the conditions they are hoping to shed more light on include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
The hope is to observe the electrical activity of brains with these conditions. With this knowledge of specific brain waves, scientists may be able to determine if someone is developing specific psychiatric conditions.
Ways to Improve Sleep
We always knew sleep was crucial. Now we know the levity of this sentiment. Sleep is essential for keeping our brain healthy and may help prevent the advancement of mental health conditions.
There are many ways to improve your sleep. For one, ditch electronics at least an hour before bed. The blue lights in these devices throw off the signals in our brain. Plus, phone addiction is closely related to depression. Using electronics before bed can potentially set yourself up for mental illness in ways we would’ve never imagined.
Also, try to stay regular with your sleep. Get your body used to a routine. That way, you can train your pineal gland to sync up your circadian rhythm.
Lastly, you can try all-natural supplements. Sleep Fast is a non-habit-forming way to improve your sleep. This mouth spray is enriched with the body’s natural sleep hormone, melatonin. In addition, it contains 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin, our system’s feel-good hormone. Thanks to serotonin, you will worry less about your daily stresses and focus more on catching some z’s.
How many hours of sleep do you nab each night? How does it affect you the next day? Share your story with us in the comments below!